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March 16, 2010

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Lambrecht: Can Navy Ressurect Its Season?

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Goalie R.J. Wickham has been a stalwart for Navy, but the pieces in front of him have fallen apart, writes LMO's Gary Lambrecht.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

When things are going wrong at the U.S. Naval Academy, the Midshipmen don’t make excuses, and they don’t panic.

But Navy men’s lacrosse coach Richie Meade doesn’t pretend to hide his concern about the combination of wrongs that have produced an unusual, early-season stumble in Annapolis. Nor does Meade try to conceal his confidence that the Mids will straighten themselves out in time to be playing in mid-May once again.

It’s only mid-March, yet the Mids (3-3) already have some serious cleaning up to do. Sure, injuries have made Navy younger and more inexperienced than it planned to be in 2010, starting with the season-ending knee injury to senior attackman Tim Paul. But the Mids have sprung too many leaks all over the field, while getting off to their worst start since losing three straight to begin the 2001 season.

If turnovers aren’t killing Navy, it’s the lack of consistency on faceoffs, or an offense that is short on exceptional shooters or a go-to guy and is putting too much pressure on a banged-up defense that isn’t ready to handle it yet. If the Mids aren’t getting beaten to an alarming number of ground balls, they are wasting too many extra-man chances or blowing too many clearing opportunities.It’s always something.

In the wake of Friday’s surprising, 15-8 trouncing by Lafayette, which became the first team other than Johns Hopkins to drop 15 goals on Navy in 11 years, these things are clear. The Patriot League, once owned by Navy, looks stronger and more wide open than ever. And the Mids right now are making too many mistakes to make it to their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament.

“We’ve got to take a hard look at ourselves. We’re beating ourselves right now, which is very uncharacteristic for us,” Meade said Monday. “We’re not scoring. Our defense was holding up pretty well, until Friday night. Poise is an issue that has come into play. Nothing has gone our way. But this is more about Navy than it is about anybody else. We have to make our own luck.

“Here’s the thing. It’s March 15. I still think we’ve got a good team. We’ve got to eat a little humble pie. This isn’t acceptable. We’re going to fix it. We’re going to freakin’ rise from the ashes.”

If the Mids (2-1 in the Patriot League) pull together to win their sixth conference tournament in seven seasons -- and the automatic qualifier appears to be the most likely path to the NCAAs -- they will have climbed multiple mountains. Their first step comes Tuesday night when they renew their rivalry with Towson, a team struggling in its own right.

This squad looked thin coming into the spring, and injuries have forced more youth to center stage ahead of schedule. Paul’s absence has elevated sophomore Ryan O’Leary into a starting role on attack. Sophomore midfielder Nikk Davis owns the spot that senior Basil Daratsos has been unable to reclaim during two years marked by knee ailments.

Defense is where Navy’s inexperience has really begun to show. Sophomores Ian Crumley and Matt Vernam are trying to jell on close defense. And freshmen Jordan Seivold and Bucky Smith are trying to shore up the defensive midfield, while senior LSM Jaren Woeppel (hamstring), senior DM Joe McAuliffe (foot sprain) and senior LSM Zach Schroeder (back) are healing. McAuliffe could be out for six weeks.

The undisputed bright spot has been sophomore goalie R.J. Wickham (.647 save percentage). Wickham is allowing 8.02 goals per game and is averaging 14.5 saves.

But even Wickham can’t keep this up if Navy doesn’t start scoring more. The Mids are averaging just seven goals since their season-opening, 16-5 win over VMI. Navy is also averaging an unhealthy 19 turnovers and winning just 45.7 percent of their face-off attempts.

Losing to North Carolina by an 11-4 count at home is one thing. Getting drilled by a Lafayette squad that had never before beaten Navy is enough to make you wonder if the Mids can indeed rise from those ashes.


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